Dark purple lips to match my shirt and skirt. I was ready for the job fair! PC: KSB

My story: how fashion reflects my spirit

Purple lipstick is always a good choice. Wearing it last week, I felt confident and on top of the world, basically like Fena Gitu. I wore it to match my skirt, and it changed my outlook on the day. I love lipstick and purple and the two combined. But there’s a spiritual point to this, and it applies to people of all genders.

Thanks for sharing in my story.

Today when the cashier at Wendy’s said purple looked good on me, it reminded me of how far I’ve come. I dress how I feel, but I have a rule now that I must always wear some splash of color in my outfit to share some joy. I began this practice during an eternal Chicagoland winter several years ago when everyone around was wearing black and grey like the gloomy sky above. Even when I’m mourning, I’ll wear a bright scarf or necklace on top of the black to symbolize hope.

But this was not always the case. In junior high, life was rough. Some girls at my tiny Christian school bullied me, and I had few friends. Why they excluded me, I never knew. I was different than them and refused to conform. Did our particular differences weird them out? I honestly never found an answer. I tried to keep a pure heart and to be on good terms with these girls, but that didn’t stop my understanding of my worth from dropping as they treated me poorly and ignored me.

My attire also reflected my musical interests, one of the differences I mentioned. Skillet was my favorite band at the time; I was obsessed with the band that evolved from grunge when I was born to hard rock around the time of my obsession. A quick Google search will show how it impacted my fashion choices — in short, with lots of black. The punk, rock, and emo scenes drew me. I still enjoy those genres, but my situation and outlook on life has changed, as have my clothing tastes. I don’t wear t-shirts displaying mummies anymore, although I really loved that one in eighth grade before I lost it at a basketball practice. (Sorry I can’t find it online to show you, but here’s a photo of me around the same time.)

Me and a special friend the summer after eighth grade, lol. Photo belongs to KSB.

My special friend and I the summer after eighth grade, lol. Photo belongs to KSB.

Life was miserable at school, and so I dressed how I felt: in black, lots of grey, sometimes olive green — generally lifeless colors. At the time I thought I just liked the colors, but I see now that I wore them as a reflection of my emotions.

I had a total of two friends at school in eighth grade, and I must have had a few clothes items that weren’t black or grey, because one day one of those two girls told me my purple sweater looked good on me. This comment, however random it was, stuck with me.

Slowly, I began incorporating more color into my wardrobe, including a lot of purple. (Towards the end of high school, a girl I babysat was wearing a turtleneck she liked asked me what my style was, and I could only think to say purple.) School also grew gradually better over the years. College was the real game changer. People accepted me with all my quirks and unique interests there.

Today I adore color — particularly purple, which does go well with my complexion and green eyes, but I appreciate anything bright. Color is beautiful. It represents life, joy, and hope. Color makes others smile. This is why I love to wear it now: to bring smiles to those around me, particularly when the weather is grey and everyone’s attire matches it. I want to be a ray of sunshine.

And I’m not the only one who’s had to overcome something difficult and came out rocking colorful lips. Nyakim Gatwech faced discrimination and harmful ignorance based on her dark skin in her modeling career but decided to rock bold colors in the face of the naysayers. Her story is quite different than mine, but I encourage you to read it here. Her colorful style is symbolic, too.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

As a disclaimer, I do know some exuberant people who prefer to wear dark colors, but I personally view color as symbolic of life and have found that a bright sweater can make people smile when it stands out amidst grey coats on a rainy day. I praise God for bringing me joy in Him so that I can share it with others, even through something as simple as my wardrobe. Evidently, our outfits aren’t always just clothes, after all; as symbols, they contain meaning.

Seven years ago, I felt invisible. Now I am a new woman, a confident one who is learning her worth and beauty and calling that out in others. As Fena sings*, do your thing and be a queen. And of course, remember that you were created in the image of a loving, holy, and entirely capable God who sees you.

 

*See link in first graf. Really. It’s worth it.

 

Advertisements

DACA, the Wall, and the fall of Jericho

 

I had a revelation about walls the other day, and it seems fitting to share it in light of Trump’s decision to end DACA. I have only grief regarding that decision, but the revelation that I had last week is a bit more hopeful…for some.

Denver skyline at sunset. The city. PC: Katelyn Skye Bennett

Denver skyline at sunset. The city. PC: Katelyn Skye Bennett

God broke down the walls of Jericho. He can and will break them down the physical and relational walls that Trump is helping to build in the United States, walls that have been going up for over a hundred years. God’s plan is to bring people together to worship Him: all nations, all languages, bowing and worshiping together at his feet. Dividing people by tribe, nation, or language does nothing to serve that purpose.

God also broke down Jericho’s walls without the use of force. His people used the peaceful and persistent method of marching around the city. Racial justice activists and those who stand up for immigrants in the United States follow these methods as well, and although they use only their voices, they are met with opposition and force by those who do not understand their shouts for justice, their pleas for systems and structures to be made right. But God did it for Jericho, and He can do it here.

Human violence is not necessary to accomplish God’s purposes, but faith and faithfulness are. Friends of God, be persistent in walking around the city until the walls fall. In the face of hopelessness, cry out to God and keep walking around the city doing His work.

Jericho is meant to be a metaphor here for bringing people together. A house divided cannot stand, as Jesus said in Matthew 12.

But suppose one wants to look at the story of Jericho literally instead of taking the above point to heart. So be it.

The walls were around Jericho just as this nation is building walls around itself so that newcomers may not enter and those who are not accepted must leave. The United States is Jericho. God used others to destroy the old city of Jericho, decimating everyone but Rahab, the one woman who respected Him, and her household. Hear me: The United States is also in danger of destruction.

We are bringing it upon ourselves.

In the face of this destruction, are you one of the righteous whom God will protect, or are you living in sin, disrespecting God by disrespecting the people He has made?

…People like Latinx and Black Americans who have done nothing but live and work for this country yet are daily suspected of drug dealing or violence because of their darker skin. Shot in the streets without a trial, innocent but perceived as guilty and not given a chance to defend themselves before their breath is ripped from their chests. Men imprisoned, separated from their children, called felons, and stripped of their voting rights for petty crimes. Why? Because Black and Latino men were profiled to begin with, instead of white men. Because there are quotas certain judicial departments must meet, so even police with good intentions may be put in a pinch to fulfill their jobs. Because the laws are inherently racist and very complex. And because Americans themselves are racist and unnecessarily fearful.

…People like undocumented immigrants who barely getting by because they can only land under the table jobs unless they have the right connections, because their other skills and education are not valued more than a paper calling them citizen, because it is easier to cheat and deceive people who do not have the power to fight for themselves if they do not have that magic nine-digit code called a social security number.

…People like Latinx folk who are documented Americans but are told to return to “their country,” told to speak English, or complimented on their English as if being an English speaker is both the original and superior language the United States. (Neither is true; ask a person of indigenous descent.)

…People like war- and famine-fleeing refugees who enter the United States with nothing, are given extremely little help from the government, and work low wage jobs because their credentials may not be recognized or because their English is not yet fluent enough or because they do not have the required education yet do not have the time or finances to pursue that education here. Some refugees recognize this discrimination by name and others do not. Regardless, the inequity exists. I witness it daily.

She could be a Dreamer, I suppose, with the universe before her but the tentacles of this nation's unjust policies stinging and strangling her head. I found her when returning from the Santa Fe art walk in Denver.  PC: Katelyn Skye Bennett

She could be a Dreamer, I suppose, with the universe before her but the tentacles of this nation’s unjust policies stinging and strangling her head. I found her when returning from the Santa Fe art walk in Denver. PC: Katelyn Skye Bennett

I prefer the metaphorical version of Jericho that points to Heaven. It’s more joyful, harmonious, full of hope. But the literal version, which portends the destruction before God destroys the world for its sin and then makes it new again, is just as crucial.

God does not discriminate. In Amos 9:10, He told His chosen nation, “All the sinners of my people shall die by the sword, who say ‘Disaster shall not overtake or meet us’” (ESV). Yet there is hope of restoration, for forgiveness comes with repentance. (Read 1 John here and consider the story of Nineveh.) God does not change, so this is true for Americans today as well as Israelites and Ninevites of old.

Where do you stand before God and in this nation? Where does your church stand? Your city?

 

How to be a peacemaker in a war-torn world, Part 1

To be a peacemaker is to fight.

When multiple races, tribes or countries have conflict or war with each other, peace may seem unattainable. (Re)conciliation requires faithful, patient effort and continual hope. After all, people and groups disagree with each other and are often engrained in their opinions. One side has hurt the other in a significant way that needs to be repented from before any true change can be made. In return, that hurt side may be retaliating to this injustice. Even when two parties come to the table to reconcile, it’s not easy to rebuild trust.

The battle for peace is hard-won, but it’s worth the effort. It’s worth the energy. It’s worth the pain.

Here are some tips to bring two or more parties together for peace:

Listen.

Don’t assume. Speak respectfully and demonstrate humility. Even if you disagree (and have history and statistics to prove why), when you show you care about one party’s opinion, they are more likely to engage in conversation with you. So, be respectful as you listen to another human or mediate between two parties. Given some time, this can lead to positive social change.

Be faithful.

Change probably won’t be immediate, and you may be persecuted for your efforts – even by those you thought you agreed with, since you are trying to bring them into harmony with an opposing group that they think could harm them! Recognize the fear there and don’t take it personally; keep fighting.

The fight for peace may be mundane at times. It may seem hopeless. It may exhaust you, but remember why you are fighting. Look to the peace heroes who have fought the battle before you. Their examples offer great wisdom and inspiration as you press onward.

Keep hope!

We are not fighting flesh and blood but are battling spiritual powers. These spiritual powers work through the corrupt societal structures we see, and we need to remember that prayer is effective. Yes, stand with the oppressed; in fact, God commands this. Yes, work in tangible ways for harmony and unity, shalom and reconciliation. But also pray.

Without God’s strength and his promise to make all things new, we have no hope or power to bring peace.

Gain encouragement by look at the small examples of success. Record and retell the inspiring testimonies demonstrating the fruit of your labor. Keep hope, my friends; keep hope.

 

As you labor for (re)conciliation, ask yourself why you are fighting for peace. How much are you willing to sacrifice for this battle?

It’s not easily won, but it’s worth the fight.

Three Words on Waiting

Waiting: it seems like the theme of my life. I was wait-listed twice before being accepted into my college. I have been waiting to find the right guy since high school. I am now waiting on my visa from the Democratic Republic of Congo so I can finally visit the country where I hope to live. Although I recognize I am by no means the longest-sufferer around, I feel that I have experienced a good amount of waiting in my short life, and I would like to encourage you in your times of waiting.

1. Waiting is frustrating.

Let me just put that out there. In this impulse-driven American society, even an hour can seem like an eternity. If I don’t want to wait sixty minutes to enjoy a home-cooked dinner, I will stick a potato in the microwave so I can eat in five minutes. Others may call in take-out or go on a Los run. When I see the little check mark signifying that a friend has read my message but then does not reply for a couple hours, the waiting makes my imagination go all sorts of places. (No, they don’t hate you, Skye. They’re probably studying and will reply later.)

And when you are waiting for something you have put your heart into, such as applying to college or for a visa, frustrating may not be an emotional enough word. Waiting can be worrisome . . . unless you realize that God is in control and has asked you to lay your burdens at his feet. In the words of Gospel singer Travis Greene, “He’s intentional, never failing.”

So what do we do in the meanwhile?

2. Wait actively.

In other words, waiting does not equal passivity. Let me be clear: I am not saying, “God helps them who help themselves.” That adage is not found anywhere in Scripture. In fact, that adage elevates humans to God’s level and limits him to a failsafe. In reality, we can see God’s help most when we are helpless. Jesus mentions this in Mark 2:15-17 regarding our need of God due to the sin we all have. But I have digressed.

While God is not our genie in a bottle that we call when we have met our limits, he is also not a genie who does everything for us if we do have faith. We still have lives to live while we trust him, and we can honor God by living lives worthy of Him (not loafing around waiting for him to do something magical).

In my current situation, I have done everything humanly possible to pursue my goal, but God operates on his own time and not necessarily ours. Sometimes there is nothing left to do other than wait for your visa with patience, faith and integrity – praying all the way.

Prayer should not a cop-out to avoid a particular task; rather, it is a powerful and effective tool we use when we come before the King of Kings. It is a pleasing fragrance to him. It is a way to beg our Abba for mercy and grace (and visas). No request is too large or small, but his answers come in his time. Hence the waiting again.

3. There is a purpose to the waiting.

A few months ago when I was in the middle of preparing for my summer trip overseas, a friend shared some encouragement. She and I were texting about a couple matters including my summer trip, and she talked with me about waiting. I did not understand why she brought this up since I was confident in my plans and excited for the summer, but now I find her words quite applicable.

This friend shared a song with which I was familiar through my worship team: “Sovereign Over Us,” The lyrics read, “You are working in the waiting/ you are sanctifying us/ and beyond our understanding/ you are teaching us to trust.” That sounds about right. I don’t understand why I must wait, but I do  know I must trust God. Then comes the promise in the chorus: “Your plans are still to prosper/ you have not forgotten us/ you are with us in the fire and in the flood/ you’re faithful forever/ perfect in love/ you are sovereign over us.” Amen.

Admittedly, I do not know the purpose to this wait. Neither does the organization I will be joining. But I know that if nothing else, God can use this time to glorify himself through all of us who are waiting — if we wait upon him.

 

Hold on to hope, friends. God is for us, and he will not fail his people. Pursue your God-given dreams and plans, and trust him in the process. And if you do not have a specific vision from Him now, honor God wherever you are. He is faithful.

Why Today Is the Greatest Day of My Life: Celebrating Faith

Today is the anniversary of the most life-changing day I’ve lived, and I hope you’ll allow me to tell you about it. Gather around, dear friends. Make yourselves comfortable, and brace yourselves for my testimony.

Fourteen years ago I was preparing to enter Kindergarten. I was a short, curly haired thing much like I am today, but I was a beaming child back, so I was a little shorter. I already loved words, and I was excited to go to school.

Fourteen years ago it was summer—July 2, 2001, to be precise. The sky by my house was its clear, summery self, and I stood underneath it, toeing the edge of our paved driveway. The glory of God was about to be manifest.

Fourteen years ago and 20 minutes away, my grandpa was in a coma in his house in Southington. It was the eve of his entrance into eternity.

Fourteen years ago my mom told me about eternity.

Fourteen years ago, having heard about Heaven and Hell and knowing I needed Jesus to save me from my sin, I gave my life to him. To put it succinctly, I became a Christian. The angels rejoiced in Heaven, and I ran to tell my parents about my newfound hope and joy—a continuing joy.

Why I’m Still A Christian

Fourteen years later, my faith hasn’t changed. I’ve been a Christian for 14 of my 19 years, nearly 75% of my life. That’s crazy! And it’s awesome! Let me tell you why:

  • I’ve seen God’s faithfulness at work as He continually provides the basic necessities in life for my family and me—practically literal daily bread. For example, just yesterday my financial aid package came though, and I was awarded an extra grant that will help enable me to keep attending college. Praise the Lord!
  • He has brought healing to my relationships and to my scarred heart, and I’ve seen him work forgiveness in fellow believers as well. I could write books about these stories if I could find the emotional energy, time, and proper words to capture them.
  • God has revealed his love, glory and power through people I know and people I’ve only just met. He’s given me peace through the prayers of my faith-full friends such as Magda this Tuesday, and He’s shown me his glory through people who don’t know him such as the man I met at the library last week. I want everyone to know God!
  • He has let me glimpse his justice, holiness, joy and Kingdom through my friends. I call to mind the Asian/Asian-American group at my college.
  • He has continually drawn me to him through his Word in the Bible and to me in person. He’s also directed my future in this manner. Y’all know I’m going to DRC soon. That’s all because God has prepared good works for me to do there for His glory. 🙂

God has used music and nature, people and stillness, to reveal himself to me. God is here, and I can’t even begin to explain how awesome He is. I’m eternally grateful to be the LORD’s—and I can say that completely honestly because I will dwell in his house forever. I have been reborn and adopted into his family! I will rejoice in Him always and keep pressing towards him.

Doesn’t he sound amazing?! Don’t stop reading, please. Let me share just a little more about my God!

Gains and Losses

We need God. To understate our situation, we’re a hot mess without him. We’re actually damned. We’re so broken that all the money, sex, music, social media, TV, friends, volunteering, time spent at work, success, awards, good grades, food, caffeine, sleeping pills, alcohol and weed can’t fix us. We’re not good enough for God. The only thing we are good for is Hell, which, by the way, is not the same as this earth. Hell is worse. There isn’t even any water to refresh the parched mouths there. Yet we deserve to die. We’re not good enough for God, so without him to save us, we have to be separated from him forever and placed in Hell.

Thankfully, God is merciful and loving, and he calls all of us broken, sinful, wicked and mediocre people to him. (Every one of us is all of those things without Christ, even the best of us.) We’re the tax collector that extorted money from the people. We’re the woman who couldn’t stay married or the one who slept around. We’re also the average-Joe destined to work a blue-collar job our whole lives. We’re all those people and more—the nobodies, really—but God looked at us and said, “Hey, I want you. I want you, Jared. I want you, Hala. I want you, Jessica and Donna and Ron. I’ll make a way for you to be with me, because you are my priceless treasure.”

Thus he sent Jesus Christ, prophesied as the Messiah called Immanuel, “God with us.” Jesus is God in flesh. He’s everything we’re not but can aim to imitate. He’s the ultimate example of humility and love, and we don’t deserve to know him, but he pursues us so hard that we can’t run away. His Spirit will work on those God has called until we’re so wrapped in God’s love that we can’t escape it. He’ll renew our spirits and change our hearts. He’ll give us hope and purpose both now and forever. If we believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, we will have eternal life, and we’ll lose ourselves and find God as we sing his praises with the angels someday: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!”

I’m so glad to be able to worship God now, and I’m elated to be with all my brothers and sisters in Christ someday. What a choir that will be! What a God I serve! He’s the most forgiving being I could ever know, and I’m so humbled by him.

I want you to know him too. I want you to rest in his love, to be sucked into his justice and mercy, to be awed by his righteousness, to be his. If you don’t know him yet, I pray that this day will mark an anniversary for you, too—the day God redeemed you from the pit and sealed you with his Spirit.

Feel free to contact me here if you want to chat about this or share your story.

Jesus is coming back soon, and while I’m thrilled for that day, my heart is breaking for those of you who aren’t. I want to go to Heaven with you; I don’t want you to live apart from him. I want to praise God with you; God deserves it. He’s worthy of all the praise he can get. Will you surrender your praise to Jesus today?

New medicine for 19 year old’s life-draining disease

picture025

Iliana Rivera sits on the right-hand side.

by Katelyn Skye Bennett

You enter the Office of Multicultural Development and see a blue-green head of hair on a girl in a scooter. Her laughter reaches your ears. Who is this joy, you ask? She is 19 year old Iliana Rivera, my roommate. Why is she in a scooter? She has Myasthenia Gravis; she has had it since high school.

Iliana’s disease has degraded such that she cannot walk on her own, hence the scooter, or keep her head up for long periods of time. Studying is difficult because memorizing takes longer. Her nerves do not reach the muscles to tell them what to do, so the disease makes Iliana weak.

The medicine Iliana is on has not been improving her health. Thus, she is starting a new medicine today, new to her and to the scientific field. If it works, she could have her life back again. In fact, if it works for many people, it could become a staple for people with bad cases of MG. This is the most hope she has had in a while. However, if Iliana responds poorly to the medicine or becomes sick while on it, she could die.

Iliana’s living and regaining life is obviously preferable, yet it comes with all the unknowns of starting to live again. She would become like a child physically, learning to become independent. Yet Iliana is also hopeful about this — think what it might be like to live a normal life again!

Iliana’s flute lies on a shelf in our room, waiting for her to complete a song on it. Sabor Latino, the Latin dance club, calls her name as well. Ideally, she could sleep more and have less all-nighters because homework might take her less time. New opportunities would abound.

But first, the hospital. Today Iliana will receive her first injection. According to the plan, she will receive one injection per week for four weeks. This will occur every six to eight months for two years, best scenario, or for five years, worst case.

Iliana is brave yet anxious in the face of the unknowns. If all goes well, Iliana might have her life back. If she reacts or catches a sickness, she might lose it. The balance is in God’s hands.

~~~

People are praying for Iliana from all over the United States: The saints in Connecticut are lifting up her name before God. People in Denver and Chicago are crying out to Him as well. Iowa, Kansas, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and other states are lifting up prayers for Iliana. To name a few organizations or groups, Wheaton College’s Mu Kappa, the William Osborne Society, Koinonia, the Office of Multicultural Development, Chaplain’s office and her dormitory floor know about her new medicine and are praying. Iliana’s close friends are doing the same, and one of her best friends will be by her side while she receives the injection today.

If you have read this blog, please pray as well. Mourn and rejoice alongside Iliana as she battles MG, and step back in amazement at the beauty of the church coming together for a sister in Christ. May Jesus be forever praised!

Modernist Literature and the Cross

I’m currently taking American Literature: Realism through Modernism, and in it we have recently been discussing modernist poetry. Fragmentation within poems has been a common and thought-provoking topic as we discuss how breaking apart objects can reveal reality better, ignoring the romanticized symbolism that people have attached to objects for centuries, but last week I became frustrated with this style of poetry. The poems seemed abstract; breaking down objects into their parts to describe them in a fuller way seemed confusing and purposeless that day.

We began discussing how Christianity can be manifested in fragmentation, and a couple of my classmates had insightful comments about fragmentation revealing the reality of Christian life. They said it shows that things are not always perfect. They said the words and format of the modernist poems reflect how we do not always understand what is happening. In other words, fragmentation shows the broken reality of life.

This is valid, but it is not always enough. Where is the hope? In class that day, I voiced that I just wanted to proclaim the gospel in a poem, the full gospel. I couldn’t stand the purposeless poems any longer. Maybe part of why I wanted to look at the bigger picture was because I’m a sociology major. Overall, I believe the urge came because I wanted to make my faith in Jesus known to everyone.

I see the value of fragmentation, and I would actually like to try writing some similar poems myself to break out of the mold in which we commonly think. Yet I do not want to become so focused on individual objects that I ignore the bigger picture of hope and redemption that Jesus has made for us, thanks be to God.

Because of these thoughts and beliefs, I scribbled the following poem in my notes as class ended. While it does not explain in detail the good news of Jesus Christ giving up His Heavenly home to become human, feel pain, be compassionate, and ultimately die an unspeakably agonizing death to take the punishment we all deserve for ignoring, disobeying, and rebelling against God–while the poem does not  go into details of Jesus’s doing this out of God’s great love and His coming back to life and conquering death once and for all out of God’s sacred power, it gives a better glimpse than many other short poems I’ve read lately. It has more purpose than a poem describing the common but unnoticed beauty of a vase, and it’s the starting place of hope.

Here’s to my God, the Saviour of all on this earth who believe in Him, who is living in His people through His Spirit until His return!

 

A Cross:

Splintered wood,

Agony.

I wince.

Hands, gaping

Chest, heaving–

A cross

That is everything;

that is all.